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South Asian Women and Marriage: Transition, Loss, Separation and Role Changes

South Asian weddings are huge and big business for the wedding industry. Lavish weddings, with beautiful backdrops, seating arrangements, flowers, mandaps, lengha's, sherwani's and more. You've spent months, over a year, maybe even a whole lifetime planning your special day as a South Asian woman. Then the day comes and for most, its a wonderful day full of memories they get to cherish forever.

You've had your special day with your beloved, you've enjoyed the honeymoon and now you are setting up life with your new husband, something you may have dreamed of for ages.

What doesn't get talked about, is how this period for many South Asian women can be an extremely difficult life transition. The traditional South Asian community set up is that the woman, the new wife and daughter-in-law, joins the husband's family and some may even begin married life moving in with their in-law's, so not much privacy is prioritised for the newly married couple. Many South Asian women may have had big careers with an independent life full of free will, coming and going as they please and perhaps used to their own space. Suddenly all this changes and you're not only in a new home environment but along with building a new life with your husband (which is a monumental transition in itself), you've also adopted many new relationships - mother-in-law, father-in-law and possibly husband's siblings too. A shift happens in roles and identity, where you may suddenly be expected to adjust very quickly to being a new wife and daughter-in-law.

This total life change for most women in the South Asian community has been largely normalised within a predominantly patriarchal cultural structure. The narrative that gets missed in the story of this normalisation is the painful loss and separation that many South Asian women go through. This may include loss and separation from all that you held a close relational attachment with. Loss and separation from close family bonds, loss of space and comfort, loss of possibly even friends who lived in your old home town, loss of familiarity and your own routine, and critically for many women - loss of independence and freedom. This is all the while adopting a new role as a wife and daughter in law. These are colossal changes in life. Its often forgotten that loss and separation are not just part and parcel of life, they can also be traumatic for our psyche. Many South Asian women find this challenging time painful.

It may also be jarring because you could be holding cultural narratives around what it should mean to be a newly married woman. You may hold beliefs that you should be happy at this time and feel confused as to why you are instead struggling emotionally. Many women describe a type of post marital depression and an anxiety around all the new roles and responsibilities they have been positioned into taking on. There can also be a sense of loss of control over life.

One way to approach this difficult transition is to firstly acknowledge that you are going through a challenging transition. Therefore, your feelings in the midst of these difficulties are actually normal. Show compassion to this side of yourself that is struggling, but trying to find its way.

Secondly strike a balance, put a routine together where you ensure you spend quality time with your new husband (date nights are very important!) and his family, but also recognise that you care for and need contact with your pre-marriage relational attachments, your family and friends! Phone them regularly, message jokes to one another and set up time at the weekend to visit, especially if they live close by. If they live further away, book one whole weekend in the near future. That way you'll have something to look forward to as well. Narratives such as, you now belong to your "sasural" and no longer your own family are deeply archaic and drenched in patriarchy. Whilst these narratives are very powerful and entrenched, it is important to recognise that they are not your narratives and its ok to shake away cultural messages that are damaging and unworkable for you and your life.

Accepting the new identity, role and new life is difficult, but this is also an important part of the process. Give yourself time with this.

Also, and this is important, talk to your nearest and dearest about how you are feeling and the changes you are going through, this includes your husband. It is critical that you share your struggles with him so he can be aware that you are feeling vulnerable and need support. This is what you signed up for, as a couple.

Finally, remember loss and separation can feel traumatic. Loss can throw up memories of other previous losses in life. Transitions can feel very overwhelming and sometimes having a therapeutic space to really process what you are going through is deeply valuable and empowering. This may help shift what you are going through. So talk to a qualified psychologist who has experience in South Asian cultural dynamics. At Blue River Psychology, we have worked with many South Asian women struggling with these transitional difficulties and we are always here. So go ahead and reach out.

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